Thursday, November 29, 2012

Rock Bottom: Steelers Lose


Rock bottom.

That's about all there is to say about this game. The Steelers played a game in Cleveland without Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Troy Polamalu, and LaMarr Woodley was injured on the first series. The Steelers turned the ball over eight times. Eight. How does that even happen to a professional team?

Trying to analyze this game would be a worthless endeavor because the offense had no rhythm the whole day. Any time something seemed to be going right, the ball would be back in the hands of the Browns. The defense got the Steelers on the board with an early pick-six by Lawrence Timmons that was clearly the play of the game. The only other points came from Plaxico drawing a pass interference call in the end zone and Chris Rainey bouncing one to the outside and scampering in. Why was Chris Rainey is as the goal line back? Because all the other running backs had fumbled up until that point. Charlie Batch played terrible, but he also got minimal help from his receivers. Plaxico ran the laziest out-route since your uncle at the family reunion last summer. Mike Wallace once again displayed a sheer lack of effort on plays he wasn't involved in and refused to come back for the ball when it was thrown his way, which led to an interception.

On the offensive line, Doug Legursky was forced into starting duty after Willie Colon injured himself in practice and Mike Adams went down with an ankle injury which led to Kelvin Beachum playing most of the second half at right tackle. The curse of number 68 lives on with Beachum and he was called for holding on his first play. The Steelers second half was just vomit-inducing. No drive longer than 5 plays. Three punts, three interceptions and two fumbles. The Browns had excellent field position all day, starting on the Steelers side of the field five times.

It is really a testament to how well the defense is playing right now that the Browns only scored 20 points. Their two touchdowns came off of turnovers when they took over at the Steelers 10 and Steelers 31. The defense only allowed two drives of longer than 5 plays (which led to the Browns two field goals) and had four drives where the Browns actually lost yardage. James Harrison looks like he is starting to return to form after ringing up a sack and giving Brandon Weeden a concussion (unintentionally, Weeden's head hit Harrison's knee as Weeden was falling down). Jason Worlids played well in relief of LaMarr Woodley, recording two sacks to give him a team-high 5.0 on the season.

All in all, no team since the AFL-NFL merger has turned the ball over 8 times and won. Since 1940 there have been 165 teams that have had 8+ turnovers in a game and only 13 have come out winners. The last team to do it was Green Bay in 1967. Since the merger, teams with 8+ turnovers are 0-53. Shockingly, the Steelers 6 point loss was the 6th closest game by an 8+ turnover team in the Post-Merger era.

If losing to the Ravens and the Browns back-to-back isn't rock bottom for the Pittsburgh Steelers, the team will probably approach absolute zero next week when they travel to Baltimore.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Gameday: Cleveland Browns

Factory of Sadness
Radio: WDVE and other affiliates

What To Watch For

1. Old Faces

If someone had told you at the beginning of the year that Charlie Batch would be throwing passes to Plaxico Burress, you would have assumed it was in the parking lot of some retirement home. But instead, both will be suiting up in the black and gold and taking the field in Cleveland. Most of Steeler Nation was vehemently calling for Charlie to come in last week after it was apparent that Leftwich was hurting, and now we get to see what Charlie can do. The receiving corps are depleted and the O-line hasn't played great lately (I'm looking at you, Willie Colon), but Charlie has led us to victory before.

2. Stop Trent Richardson

Richardson is a beast, plain and simple. Anyone who saw him play at Alabama knows just how much damage he can do. He has been impressive in his rookie season, displaying both open-field maneuverability and a punishing downhill running style. On top of being the Browns leading rusher, Richardson also has the most receptions and the 3rd most receiving yards on the team. Cleveland will try to get the ball into his hands in any way they can. Brad Childress is the Browns offensive coordinator, and a lot of things the Browns are doing with Richardson mirror what the Vikings did with Adrian Peterson early in his career.

3. Pressure Weeden

Brandon Weeden hasn't been awful in his rookie stint with the Browns, but he hasn't exactly been what one would hope for out of a 29-year old quarterback either. James Harrison seems to be getting better every week, but now he has to face his nemesis Joe Thomas. Of all the tackles in the league that Harrison has faced (and mostly dominated), Thomas is the only one that consistently gets the better of him. This is going to have to change if the Steelers want to force turnovers and put pressure on Weeden. The defense played a lights out game against the Ravens, but they still didn't force any turnovers and are one of the worst in the league (ahead of only Indianapolis) at generating turnovers.

4. Special Teams

One week after the Steelers give up their first touchdown on special teams, they get to face Josh Cribbs who has killed them time after time on special teams in the past. Of Cribbs' 8 career kickoff return touchdowns, 3 of them have come against the Steelers. With the way our offense is playing right now without Ben or Antonio Brown, we can not afford to give the Browns any easy points or easy scoring opportunities. Last week's game against the Ravens should serve as a perfect example as to why the Special Teams needs to improve and must limit the impact Josh Cribbs can have on this game.

5. Still the Browns

The Browns are 2-8 on the season but 5 of their 8 losses were by less than one score and all but one of their losses were by 10 points or less. They have a good defense that is capable of keeping them in games, but at the end of the day they are still the Cleveland Browns. And nothing says "Cleveland Browns" like making ridiculous mistakes at key points in the game. Last week's game against Dallas was a perfect example of this when the Browns carried a 13-point lead into the second half then gave up 17 fourth-quarter points to allow Dallas to tie the game, including a huge pass interference penalty that allowed the Cowboys to get into field goal range for the tying kick. The Steelers can't count on the officials the same way Dallas could, but they do need to be opportunistic in capitalizing on the mistakes the Browns will inevitably make.

Friday, November 23, 2012

WPIAL Championships Preview

Is there anything better than waking up from a turkey-and-pie-induced coma to a full day of High School Football? Probably not. If you're spending Black Friday out shopping, you're going to miss a heck of a day of football with some of the best players in the WPIAL on the Heinz Field grass. This year's championship games are all about streaks. Clairton has won the last four Single-A titles and is riding the nation's longest winning streak of 59 games. In AA, Aliquippa will be appearing in their 5th consecutive championship game. The Parkway Conference in AAA is looking for their third straight title after West Allegheny, Central Valley, and Montour won the last three years. Finally, North Allegheny is going for the three-peat in Quad-A. All four games will be televised live on ROOT Sports.

Class A Championship

1. Clairton (9-0, 12-0) vs 2. Sto-Rox (7-1, 11-1)

In a rematch of last year's Class A Championship, Clairton and Sto-Rox square off again in the first game of the day. Clairton is riding the nation's longest winning streak of 59 consecutive games and can break Central Bucks West's state record with a win. At the rate Clairton is winning WPIAL championships, we might as well rename Black Friday "Black and Orange Friday." The Bears have won four consecutive Class A titles and five of the last six. They are once again stacked with D-1 recruits, led by RB Tyler Boyd who is 3rd in the WPIAL with 1979 rushing yards and has scored 40 total touchdowns. The Bears also feature Pitt recruit Titus Howard who plays both WR and CB and is being recruited as a defensive back. Clairton has the best defense in Class A, giving up only 75 points through 12 games. On the other side, Sto-Rox is led by junior QB Lenny Williams who had the worst game of his career last year in the championship against Clairton. Williams has the size and athleticism to take a game over, as he did in the semi-finals against North Catholic.Williams has thrown for over 2100 yards this season with 26 touchdowns and no interceptions. He throws one of the tightest spirals you'll see from a high school quarterback and has a big arm that can make throws down the field and deep down the sidelines. He was also the Vikings leading rusher with over 1000 yards on the ground this season. This is the best offense Clairton has seen all season, and the matchup of Titus Howard on Sto-Rox's leading receiver Ben Shackelford will be one to watch. At the end of the day, Clairton is simply too good. Bout Dat Nation rolls on. Prediction: Clairton

Class AAAA Championship

1. North Allegheny (7-0, 12-0) vs 7. Woodland Hills (6-2, 10-2)

In a strange decision by the WPIAL, the Quad-A championship game (usually the last game of the day) is being played second on the schedule. The game features two of the most dominant Quad-A teams over the last decade. North Allegheny is the two-time defending Quad-A champion and has run the table this season on their way to a three-peat. The Tigers are led by QB Mack Leftwich, who has committed to Stephen F. Austin and reportedly has clocked a 4.4 40-yard dash. Leftwich is 3rd in the WPIAL in passing with over 2400 yards, 32 touchdowns and no interceptions. Leftwich is also a threat on the ground, rushing for over 400 yards and 8 touchdowns this season. His leading receiver, Gregg Garrity, is 53 yards away from 1000 with has 47 receptions and 13 touchdowns. Leading rusher Alex DiCiantis is also closing in on 1000 and has also found the end zone 13 times. North Allegheny has the best offense and best defense in Quad-A. This is primarily a result of being downright dominant up front behind Michigan recruit Patrick Kugler and DT Jeremy Gonzales who were both named to the Post-Gazette's Fabulous 22 Team. Woodland Hills has a much different look this season than in years past when they featured dominant running backs. This Wolverine's team has done it through the air on the arm of Cody McClelland who has thrown for over 1600 yards and 20 TDs. Woodland Hills is no stranger to Heinz Field, and will be playing there for the 6th time since the stadium opened. After upsetting the #2 seed Gateway in the quarterfinals and #3 seed Upper St Clair in the semi-finals, it would not be a surprise to see the red hot Wolverines give the Tigers a run for their money. At the end of the day, North Allegheny is the better team and Woodland Hills is going to have to force turnovers - like they have done in every round of the playoffs - to win the title. Prediction: North Allegheny

Class AA Championship
1. Aliquippa (8-0, 12-0) vs 3. Washington (8-0, 12-0)

The AA Championship is literally a showcase of the stars of tomorrow as some of the top juniors in the state will face off. Aliquippa is led by a pair of junior running backs that both broke the 1000-yard mark and the best defense in the entire WPIAL. Dravon Henry ran for 1300 yards and 23 touchdowns while Terry Swanson broke 1000 and added 18 scores. Henry's real talent is in the secondary where he has multiple offers from D-1 schools as a defensive back. The Quips defense has been downright incredible this season. They have only allowed more than 7 points once and have pitched 6 shutouts in 12 games - including two shutouts in the playoffs. To complement their outstanding defense, they have the top offense in the entire WPIAL, the only team in any classification to average over 50 points per game. Only twice this season were the Quips held below 40 and they have scored 55, 43, and 56 in three playoff games so far. Washington is no stranger to facing teams with dominant offenses. In their four games this season against teams averaging over 30 points per game, the Little Prexies held each of their opponents under 18 points. In fact, Seton-La Salle's 17 points in the quarterfinals was the most anyone has scored on the Prexies all season. The Little Prexies strength is their ground game, led by the leading rusher in the entire WPIAL, junior Shai McKenzie. McKenzie has over 2600 yards and 42 touchdowns this season, both tops in the WPIAL. His 12.4 yards per carry is second only to Clairton's Tyler Boyd amongst backs with more than 30 carries. In the semi-final against South Fayette, McKenzie put the team on his back, rushing for 293 yards and 4 touchdowns. Washington's ground-and-pound offense dominated time of possession and kept South Fayette's stellar offense on the sideline. The Little Prexies will need a similar effort if they are going to challenge Aliquippa, who is playing at Heinz Field for the fifth consecutive season. Taking a moment to pat myself on the back, I called this championship game matchup back in my preseason AA preview post. Not going to change the prediction now. Prediction: Aliquippa

Class AAA Championship
4. West Allegheny (7-1, 11-1) vs 7. West Mifflin (7-1, 11-1)

The AAA Championship is a matchup of two teams that no one expected to be here. West Allegheny rode a dominant defense through the season and to the Championship - but not without some luck. In the opening week of the season after giving up a go-ahead score to Blackhawk with under a minute to play, the Indians scored a last-second touchdown to win the game and get the season off on the right foot. After that game, West Allegheny only gave up more than 14 points once - to Central Valley in their only loss of the season. Since the calendar turned to October, West Allegheny hasn't allowed more than 7 points to any team and has held the top offense in AAA (Thomas Jefferson) to just 7 points and another top 5 unit (Montour) to just 5 points in two meetings. West Mifflin rode an undefeated record to the last week of the regular season when they fell to rival Thomas Jefferson. The Titans are led by junior RB Jimmy Wheeler, the second leading rusher in all the WPIAL who has over 2100 yards and 28 touchdowns. Wheeler got his start in track and was one of the top sprinters last year as a sophomore. That speed has translated onto the football field and he has been dominant this season. The Titans also feature a dual-threat quarterback in Derrick Fulmore that provided over 1640 yards of offense this season between rushing (over 900) and throwing (over 700). Fulmore threw for 7 touchdowns and rushed for 17. For West Mifflin to win, they are going to need another strong performance from both Fulmore and Wheeler. I'm a firm believer that defense wins championships, but I don't think West Allegheny has seen a 1-2 punch this season as good as Wheeler and Fulmore. This one will be close, but don't be surprised if the Parkway Conference's streak of three consecutive championships comes to an end. Prediction: West Mifflin

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Gameday: Baltimore Ravens

The House That Hines Built
Radio: DVE and other affiliates

What To Watch For

1. Three Headed Monster

This will be the first time this season that the Steelers top three running backs figure to suit up for a game. In the two games that Mendenhall played, Jonathan Dwyer didn't get a helmet because of some combination of the numbers game and him fumbling in Oakland. Now, with Big Ben out, the Steelers figure to deploy all three of their backs - Mendenhall, Redman, and Dwyer in a three-pronged rushing attack against the Ravens 26th-ranked run defense. The Steelers ability to control the clock on offense with the running game and keep the Ravens out of the end zone on defense will be the biggest factor in whether or not we can keep this game close and have a chance to win. The Ravens have given up over 100 yards rushing in 6 of their 9 games, so they can be exploited on the ground.

2. Lord Byron's Cannon

As you may have heard at some point in time during his 10-year NFL career, Byron Leftwich has a long windup. Like a really, really long windup. Long enough that if he started at the time you started reading this paragraph he would just be releasing the ball right now. However, what critics of his long windup usually fail to mention is that he has an absolute cannon for an arm. There won't be any finesse passes with Leftwich under center. These are going to be lasers heading towards our receivers. The good thing is that while he won't be making any "touch" passes, we might finally get to see him throw some bombs to Mike Wallace, especially considering the Ravens are going to be without their top two corners.

3. 31 > 20

Ed Reed is capable of taking a game over. As a free safety, he's been the best in the game for the last decade (Troy is a strong safety, remember). However, Reed has not been at his best this season and from what I can tell as an outsider, the bigger difference-maker in the Ravens secondary has been strong safety Bernard Pollard. Pollard is the leading tackler on the team and figures to spend a lot of time down in the box defending against the run. As strange as it is to say, it will be more important for Leftwich to identify where Pollard is on any given play than Reed. If Pollard is down in the box, running the ball probably isn't going to go too well. If Pollard is playing deep, run the ball all day.

4. Stop Ray Rice

The Ravens came out this season with a no huddle offense but it still runs through Ray Rice. Rice has 144 carries and 35 receptions on the season and the Ravens will look to get the ball in his hands any way they can - running, draws, screens, swing passes, etc. Stopping Rice is going to mean the front seven is going to have to have their best game of the season. They can't be letting blocks come to them or overpurusing the ball like they did against Kansas City. If Rice gets a cut-back lane, it won't be an 8 or 9 yard gain like it was for Jamaal Charles. It will be a 20 or 30 yard gain. And then we're in trouble. The defensive line has to fill their gaps and keep the Ravens linemen off the linebackers so Foote and Timmons can flow to the ball and make plays. Harrison and Woodley must set the edge and not let Rice get to the outside where he can turn on the jets.

5. Turnovers

The Ravens offense has been efficient with the ball this season, only turning it over 9 times on the season. Of those 9, Flacco has accounted for the majority of them, throwing 7 interceptions. The Ravens have won the turnover battle in all but one of their games this season (a loss to the Texans which was the only game they were thoroughly dominated in). In fact, the Ravens have only turned it over more than once in a game 3 times and two of those games were losses. If the Steelers want to beat the Ravens, the defense is going to have to generate turnovers and the offense must take care of the ball. The Steelers have done a very good job this season not turning the ball over, only committing 9 turnovers, but that number is somewhat misleading as the team has recovered 9 of its 14 fumbles. If we are going to beat the Ravens, we can not turn the ball over and will have to take it away from them. This is going to take a complete team effort, but there's no reason it can't be done.

If you don't already hate the Ravens, watch this to get your blood boiling:

The Ravens have invoked the Curse of Cope. No punishment can be severe enough.

Here we go.

Friday, November 16, 2012

WPIAL Semi-Finals Results

The Championship games are set and have a very similar flavor to what we've seen in years past. North Allegheny returns to Heinz with a chance to win their 3rd straight title. In AAA, a Parkway Conference team is in the Championship for the 7th straight season. Parkway teams have won the last 3 AAA titles. In AA, Aliquippa returns to Heinz for the 5th straight season. Clairton tied Central Bucks West for the longest winning streak in Pennsylvania history and has a rematch with Sto-Rox next week with a chance to win their 5th consecutive WPIAL title.

1. North Allegheny 47, 4. Seneca Valley 17
7. Woodland Hills 42, 3. Upper St Clair 14

4. West Allegheny 24, 1. Thomas Jefferson 7
7. West Mifflin 35, 3. Central Valley 34 (OT)

1. Aliquippa 56, 4. Jeanette 0
3. Washington 26, 2. South Fayette 14

1. Clairton 37, 13. Neshannock 7
2. Sto-Rox 34, 6. North Catholic 20

WPIAL Semi-Finals Preview

Tonight eight teams will punch their tickets to Heinz Field and WPIAL Championship games. All four of the top seeds remain but only in AA are the top 4 teams playing in the Semi-Finals. As is fairly typical of the WPIAL Semi-Finals, they are dominated by "powerhouse" schools, including 3 of the 4 defending Champions.


1. North Allegheny (7-0, 11-0) vs 4. Seneca Valley (6-1, 10-1) at North Hills
Quad-A features two rematches of conference clashes. On one half of the bracket, the top two teams from the Northern Eight square off. North Allegheny blew out Seneca Valley 45-3 back in Week 3. These are the top two offenses in Quad-A with North Allegheny having the edge on defense. The Tigers are led by QB Mack Leftwich who is 6th in the WPIAL with over 2000 passing yards. Seneca Valley's Jordan Brown isn't far behind, with over 1700 yards on the season but almost double Leftwich's touchdown total (50 to 27 in favor of Brown). The Raiders also have the top running back in Quad-A in Forrest Barnes who has run for 1640 yards and added another 240 in receiving. All told, Barnes has found the end zone 30 times this season. NA has spread their touchdowns around between leading receiver Gregg Garrity and leading rusher Alex DiCiantis. The difference in this game will be on defense where North Allegheny's unit is clearly better. If the Tigers can keep the Raiders short passing game bottled up as they did in the first meeting, they will head back to Heinz Field for a shot at their third consecutive title. Prediction: North Allegheny

3. Upper St Clair (7-1, 10-1) vs 7. Woodland Hills (6-2, 9-2) at Baldwin
The Panthers pounded Central Catholic 38-0 last Friday and are one game away from a rematch of last year's title game with North Allegheny where they fell in overtime. Because of conference realignment, the Panthers and Wolverines were both in the Southeastern Conference this season, but their meeting was way back in the first week of the season when Upper St Clair won 31-12. Since then, the Wolverines offense has been much better, scoring 27 or more in every game until their 17-14 win over Gateway last week. The Panthers are clearly the better defensive team and haven't given up a point yet in the playoffs with 5 total shutouts on the season. The big story of this game will be the matchup of legendary coaches Jim Render and George Novak. Render is the WPIAL's all-time leader in wins with 364 wins and four WPIAL titles. Novak is fourth on the list with 267 wins and six WPIAL titles. Legendary coaching matchups are always tough to pick, but I know better than to pick against Jim Render in the playoffs. Prediction: Upper St Clair


1. Thomas Jefferson (8-0, 11-0) vs 4. West Allegheny (7-1, 10-1) at Bethel Park
The two most successful AAA programs over the past decade face off for the right to go to Heinz Field. TJ has seen a resurgence this season (after a "down" year last year where they only made the quarterfinals) on the backs of a strong passing game, led by 2200-yard passer Joe Carroll. This is another matchup of strength-on-strength as TJ's AAA-leading offense (43 points per game) squares off against the best defense in AAA in West Allegheny. Since their loss to Central Valley at the end of September, the Indians haven't allowed more than one score against them in any games, including two shutouts last week's game against Montour where the Spartans only score was a safety. West Allegheny's offense isn't spectacular, but they can ground and pound with the best of them and have relied on their defense to win games. Prediction: Thomas Jefferson

3. Central Valley (7-1, 9-2) vs 7. West Mifflin (7-1, 10-1) at North Allegheny
The merger of Center and Monaca school districts might have been one of the most successful mergers from a football standpoint in state history since the incorporation of Woodland Hills 25 years ago. In their 3 years of existence, the Warriors have made the Semi-Finals each year and won the WPIAL title two years ago. If they are going to make it back to Heinz, they are going to need another strong performance from Robert Foster, one of the best players in the state. West Mifflin has the best rushing attack in AAA, led by 2000-yard rusher Jimmy Wheeler. Both teams know how to find the end zone and had offenses in the top 5 in AAA. Central Valley was my preseason pick for AAA champion, so I'm going to stick with them, even though their leading passer and leading rusher are still sidelined with injury. Don't be shocked if West Mifflin finds their way to Heinz though. Prediction: Central Valley


1. Aliquippa (7-0, 11-0) vs 4. Jeanette (7-1, 10-1) at Peters Twp
In a rematch of last year's championship game, two of the most storied AA programs square off for the right to return to Heinz. Aliquippa has played on the Heinz Field grass in four consecutive seasons. The Quips have the top-ranked offense and defense in AA and feature a slew of players with Division 1 talent. This Jeanette team isn't as good as the team that reached Heinz Field last year, but they have the speed to run with Aliquippa. That said, Aliquippa is simply too talented on both sides of the ball and if Jeanette has any hope of winning they're going to have to hope the Quips turn the ball over. Prediction: Aliquippa

2. South Fayette (8-0, 11-0) vs 3. Washington (8-0, 11-0) at Chartiers Valley
Two unbeatens square off in a collision of styles featuring two of the top players in all the WPIAL. South Fayette sophomore Brett Brumbaugh is the WPIAL's leading passer with 2583 yards and Washington junior RB Shai McKenzie leads the WPIAL in rushing with over 2300 yards. South Fayette also features a dominant defense that pitched 6 shutouts this season. The Lions probably haven't seen an offense as good as Washington's all year and it will be a test of Washington's run game if they are able to control the clock and keep South Fayette's offense off the field. South Fayette has the 2nd-ranked offense and defense in AA while Washington ranks 3rd in both categories. This should be a great matchup. I predicted Washington in the championship game in my preseason picks, and I'm sticking with them to pull the upset. Prediction: Washington


1. Clairton (9-0, 11-0) vs 13. Neshannock (7-1, 10-1) at Chartiers-Houston
Bout Dat Nation features one of the top players in all of Pennsylvania in RB Tyler Boyd who has led the team to two blowout wins in the playoffs. In two games, Boyd has 26 carries for over 500 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns plus another receiving touchdown. On the season, only 3 players in the entire WPIAL that had more than 10 carries are averaging more than Boyd's 14.3 yards per carry. Guess what? Two of them play with him. Clairton's Tarrish Webb (13 carries, 370 yards, 28.5 ypc) and Titus Howard (11 carries, 189 yards, 17.2 ypc) have higher yards per carry but nowhere near Boyd's 129 attempts. The most impressive stat might be that Boyd is 3rd in the WPIAL in rushing (1800 yards) despite having at least 70 less carries than everyone else in the top 12 (except Washington's Shai McKenzie who has 44 more carries than Boyd). Neshannock has never been this deep in the playoffs and has been carried by dual-threat QB Ernie Burkes who had 1500 yards passing and almost 800 yards rushing. Neshannock is a good team, but Clairton is simply too good. Prediction: Clairton

2. Sto-Rox (7-1, 10-1) vs 6. North Catholic (7-1, 9-2) at Dormont Stadium
The Vikings are looking to get back to Heinz Field and get a shot at redemption against a Clairton team that pounded them in the Championship Game last year. On the other side, the Trojans are looking to reach their first Championship Game in school history. North Catholic pulled an upset of Rochester in the quarterfinals by pounding the rock with sophomore PJ Fulmore and junior fullback Jared Fragapane, especially out of a wildcat set. Fulmore was 9th in the WPIAL in rushing with over 1600 yards this season, but has the lowest yards per carry average of any of the top 10 backs. While he is not a big play hitter and North Catholic does not have a dominant offense, they rely on controlling the ball and the clock with their ground game. On the flip side, Sto-Rox junior QB Lenny Williams was 7th in the WPIAL in passing with over 1900 yards. Sto-Rox averages almost 40 points per game, and the only way the Trojans are going to make their first trip to Heinz is if their run game can control the clock and keep the Viking offense on the sidelines. That said, I'm a North Catholic alum and there's no way I'm picking against my Alma Mater. Homer Pick: North Catholic

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Past is Prologue

The NFL Season is filled with cliches. We hear things from coaches like "the standard is the standard" and "it is what it is." As Steelers fans, we certainly get a kick out of Mike Tomlin press conferences where he runs down a list of cliches. As bloggers, we love these press conferences because we know how much it drives the mainstream Pittsburgh media crazy when they don't get a juicy sound-byte for their story. In the last three days, we've all learned more about SC joints and rib joints than we even thought was possible. But none of that matters now. That scoreboard watching that you normally do on Sundays? Not going to happen.

 Because this week is different. This week is something special. This week is where everything that happened in the past is simply that. It doesn't matter who is injured. Sure, you could make an All-Star team out of the injury reports for the Steelers and Ravens and that team with Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu, Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb could probably beat either of the teams that will march out on the field on Sunday (if they were all at full health). But that doesn't matter. What matters is that on Sunday night at 8:15pm, 46 men will don uniforms that make them look like giant bumblebees and a helmet with a logo on only one side and take the field. They are the Pittsburgh Steelers. They are our team. Would things be better if we had Ben and Troy and Antonio Brown? Of course. But that isn't who we have. We have Byron Leftwich and Will Allen and Emmanuel Sanders. But if you even think for one minute that Byron and Will and Manny aren't going to leave everything they have on the field, well, there's a spot on the West End Bridge with your name on it. Those 46 guys that strap on the helmet are the Pittsburgh Steelers. And they are playing the Baltimore Ravens. Those two sentences should be enough to get your blood racing.

It's the Ravens. It doesn't matter if Ray Lewis is in a hoodie or wearing purple pants. It doesn't matter if Lardarius Webb is lined up opposite Mike Wallace or in a rehab facility. They are the Ravens. We are the Steelers. That is enough. Both teams have injuries, but if you think for even a second that the Ravens are going to take this game lightly just because Ray Lewis isn't playing, you'd better hope Highmark covers brain exams. If you're even thinking about taking a lackadaisical attitude about this game, you have two days to change that. Get ready. Get angry. Support your team. The 46 men that go to battle on Sunday are the 46 men that we have to support. It won't do us as fans or them as players any good if we sit around moping about who isn't playing. What we can do is support those that are playing. We are at home. This is our house. Don't let the Ravens control our house.

I'll turn it over to the all-time leading expert on hatred to close this out:

UPDATE: After watching this, I fully endorse the Emperor's advice:

Here. We. Go.

Never Mind the Darkness We Still Can Find A Way: Steelers Win


The Steelers won the toss and made the strange decision to defer to the second half. Generally I'm in favor of deferring, but against a terrible offensive team like the Chiefs that hasn't had a lead all year, taking the ball and putting points on the board first might've been a good decision.

Jamaal Charles rips off a big run on a cut-back to start, but the Chiefs drive stalls out around midfield when Cassel just lays down under pressure.

Keisel gets credit for the sack.

Ben hits Heath to get things rolling, but the drive stalls out when Sanders gets a ball knocked out of his hands and another pass slips through Cotchery's hands.

A bad punt gives the Chiefs decent field position and they take advantage, hitting a wide open tight end down the sideline. To make matters worse, Clark misses a tackle and it turns into a 40-yard gain. A pass to McCluster gets them into the red zone and Charles cuts one back with no one in the middle of the field for the score.

A team that hasn't had a lead all year only needed 6 minutes to get lead on the Steelers.


The Steelers respond by going 3-and-out.

Kansas City keeps rolling on the ground and the Steelers don't force a 3rd down unti the Chiefs are at midfield. Thankfully, Cassel sucks.

The wheels fall off on the next drive when Willie Colon records two penalties in one play - a holding penalty then another unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for swearing at an official. Colonoscopy city. With the Steelers backed up inside their 10, Haley calls a draw and Redman fumbles. Puke.

The Chiefs run it twice to get it to the 3.

Second Quarter

For some reason, the Chiefs keep it on the ground on 3rd and goal from the 3 and Woodley makes a huge play to bring down Charles in the backfield and hold the Chiefs to 3.


Things go from bad to worse when David Paulsen fumbles after the catch on the first play of the next drive, but Colon atones for his earlier penalty by falling on the ball and keeping the drive alive. The Steelers go to their bread-and-butter and Heath picks up two big first downs to move us into Chiefs territory. The drive stalls out just inside the red zone, but Suisham gets us on the board.


A false start penalty turns a 3rd and short into a 3rd and medium and Timmons makes a great play in coverage to force the tight end to make a diving attempt at a pass. Great job by the defense to force a 3-and-out after the score.

A bad punt gives us great field position at midfield and Ben takes advantage. On the second play he takes a shot deep for Wallace and throws a perfect ball to Wallace at the goal line that just bounces off Wallace's fingertips. Wallace should have had it, he was wide open. On 3rd and medium, Dwyer takes a draw handoff right up the middle for nearly 20 yards to put us in field goal range. What a play call. Three play later, Ben sees an opening in front of him and takes off, taking it all the way down inside the 10. On the next play, he throws a fade for Wallace who makes a one-handed diving grab.

It's called a touchdown on the field but goes for review. Upon review, we see that Wallace actually caught the ball between his knees and it never touched the ground.

Holy crap.


The Chiefs get the ball back with 3 minutes left in the half and move it out to midfield with passes to Bowe and Baldwin, but the defense locks it down and forces a punt.

Third Quarter

The Steelers go 3-and-out with Ben getting sacked on 3rd down. It didn't look bad at the time, but Ben went straight to the locker room after the play with a shoulder and rib injury. Looks like he's going to be out a while.
This can't even sum it up.

The Chiefs drive the ball down the field while everyone in the stadium is watching Leftwich warm up. Ike went off for a play and the Chiefs went right after Cortez Allen, seemingly scoring a touchdown, but a holding penalty brought it back. They follow it up by missing a 33-yard field goal.

Byron comes out at quarterback and badly misses on his first throw, then has a ball slip out of his hand on 3rd down that is pretty much the same play as the one Ben had last week that the Giants ran back for a touchdown. These refs get it right and call it an incomplete pass plus they tack on an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Kansas City for celebrating the touchdown that didn't count. Dwyer gets us to midfield but comes up just short on 3rd down. Tomlin elects to go for it and Dwyer is stopped.

Kansas City takes over at midfield, but the defense plays out of their minds and comes up with a 3-and-out.

It was a tense atmosphere as Leftwich came back out to lead the team, and everyone in the stadium knew that one of the receivers was going to have to step up and make something happen if we were going to win this game. Byron took a shot deep for Wallace and he didn't even try for it, drawing some ire from the crowd. On 3rd down, Byron came back and hit Sanders across the middle who turned it upfield into a 30-yard gain. On the next 3rd down, Sanders draws a pass interference flag when he gets maimed trying to come back for the ball. Somehow, two plays got us into field goal range.

Fourth Quarter

Things get better when the Chiefs just collapse on themselves and commit two penalties on the next third down - defensive holding and roughing the passer, the latter of which moves us into the red zone. Byron goes to the well one more time but Sanders can't hang on to a 3rd down pass in the front corner of the end zone. Suisham.


After that, it was all about the defense. The teams traded 3-and-outs multiple times with Timmons and Keisel leading the defense.

The Steelers finally get the ball with 4 minutes to play and have a chance to run it out. An incomplete pass on 2nd down stops the clock but Leftwich hits Cotchery over the middle for a big conversion to keep the drive alive. The Chiefs start burning their timeouts and the Steelers have a 3rd and 2 with just over 2 minutes to play to win the game, but Dwyer comes up just short. Tomlin elects to punt after the two-minute warning.

Kansas City takes over out of timeouts and starts moving the ball downfield. With about a minute left, a strange play happens where both Clark and Bowe get hurt. The ref states the rule about an injury costing a team a timeout, but somehow gives Kansas City a fourth timeout to take because of the injury? That's a new one on me. Two plays later, the Chiefs seemingly convert a 3rd down with a big pass into Steelers territory but they get flagged for offensive pass interference.

I'll be honest. Yes, it was interference, but I've never seen OPI called in that situation.

The Chiefs can't convert on 3rd down but Cassel hits Bowe on 4th down a split second before Woodley buries him. Cassel is able to get up to the line and spike it with two ticks left. Succop kicks the ball sideways and it somehow makes it through the uprights to tie the game as time expires.



Kansas City wins the toss. Yikes. If you had a sinking feeling about the prospect of Leftwich having to lead a scoring drive, you weren't alone.

Thankfully, Matt Cassel sucks. On the second play of overtime he stares down his tight end and Timmons makes a leaping interception that he almost takes back to the house.

Tomlin doesn't even waste time with the offense. Suisham all day.




Ben is hurt. 
That's about the only thing that we can say at this point.

Players of the Game

Offensive Game Ball: Heath Miller
Defensive Game Ball: Lawrence Timmons

Honorable Mentions:
Emmanuel Sanders
Shaun Suisham
Brett Keisel

Final Thoughts

  • Once again, the injury bug strikes hard. Ben Roethlisberger was not only having a career year, but was easily the most valuable player of the team. When he went down with a shoulder injury in the Third Quarter, the difference in the offense was apparent. It just wasn't the same team with Leftwich under center.
  • Ryan Clark suffered another concussion. That's two in three weeks for Ryan. Concussions come with a lot of uncertainty, but having two in that short amount of time is not a good thing. 
  • It was apparent how much we missed Antonio Brown on offense. Ben looked much less decisive, particularly on 3rd down.
  • Once again, Manny Sanders makes a big catch over the middle of the field late in the game. 
  • You have to hand it to the Chiefs. They came out with a great defensive gameplan - stack the box against the run and force the Steelers to beat them through the air on a cold and rainy night.
  • Hidden in the poor offensive effort was another strong showing by the defense. Ryan Clark dropped an interception that might have been six points if he hung on, but the defense really only allowed two big drives. The one was the first touchdown drive where the Chiefs gashed us on the ground and the second was the field goal drive at the end of the game where Dwayne Bowe somehow got open in the secondary to get them into field goal range. 
  • Obviously, Lawrence Timmons came up with the defensive play of the game, and quite possibly the play of the season. His leaping interception in overtime enabled us to get out with a win. 
  • The on-field adjustments made by the defense throughout the game were apparent - and they worked. One of the common critiques of Mike Tomlin has been that the team has not adjusted to what the other team was doing. This was not the case tonight. Early in the game, the Chiefs were gashing us on the ground with cut-back runs and off-tackle runs where the backs were able to get to the edge. The Steelers adjusted and the outside linebackers and corners did a much better job as the game went on setting the edge and forcing running plays back inside. 
  • It's Ravens Week. Get your heads on straight folks. This is the biggest game of the season (until we play the Ravens again in 2 weeks). 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Gameday: Kansas City Chiefs

Heinz Field
TV: ESPN (ABC locally)
Radio: WDVE and other affiliates

What To Watch For

1. Scoreboard

The Chiefs are bad. Really, really bad. They have not had a lead during the regular season at all this year. Yes, read that again. The only time the Chiefs had a lead this year was when they beat the Saints in overtime. This is a team that not only struggles to score, but didn't put more than 17 on the board during the entire month of October. The Steelers need to get out to an early lead and just keep building on it. The Chiefs have the 29th ranked scoring offense in the league and are just the kind of team that can be put away early in a game. However, the longer they're allowed to hang around, well, we all know what happened against Tennessee and Oakland.

2. Turnovers

It's Monday Night Football, but most teams that play the Chiefs feel like they're out to Sunday brunch. The Chiefs have turned the ball over 3 or more times in all but one of their games (against Tampa they only turned it over twice). In the last two weeks the Chiefs have turned the ball over 8 times. They lead the league in both interceptions and fumbles lost. Quarterback Matt Cassel is the leading criminal, throwing 11 interceptions and fumbling 7 times. On the whole, the Chiefs have committed an astounding 29 turnovers through 8 games.

3. Life Without Brown

Antonio Brown has been ruled out with an ankle injury for this week and it's uncertain how many games he will miss. Coach Tomlin will tell us "injuries are a fact of life in the National Football League" but the long and the short of it is that Brown was the most clutch playmaker we had on offense. Look at his receiving stats on 3rd downs over the last two years. Time and time again Brown came up with big grabs in key moments. Emmanuel Sanders will step in as the second wide receiver opposite Mike Wallace and Jericho Cotchery will fill the #3 role. Sanders is capable and might have the best hands on the team outside of Heath Miller.

4. Backfield By Committee

The "Running Back by Committee" approach the Steelers have been forced to use has worked so far and as we enter the second half of the year, the situation is not nearly as dire as it was over the last few weeks. Isaac Redman is still nursing two sprained ankles and Jonathan Dwyer is recovering from a quadriceps injury and is listed as probably. Rashard Mendenhall is still a week or so away from returning from his Achilles injury. Chris Rainey is listed as probable after injuring his ribs last week. Somehow, Baron Batch seems to be the only running back on the team that hasn't gotten hurt this year. Despite all the injuries, Steelers backs have 3 consecutive 100-yard games (Dwyer with 2 and Redman with 1) and all in all the Steelers have rushed for over 100 yards as a team in 4 of the 5 games since the bye week. The Steelers have won all four of the games when the team ran for more than 100 yards, and the Chiefs are averaging allowing 126 yards per game on the ground.

5. Todd Haley's Revenge

This storyline will probably be talked about to death by ESPN before the game. The Chiefs unceremoniously fired Todd Haley as their head coach halfway through last season. Now that Haley is the offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh, this is somewhat of a "revenge" game for him. Haley's offense has been built around throwing quick passes and hitting receivers in stride so that they can make plays with the ball in their hands. But with Antonio Brown out of the game and the nation watching on Monday Night against his former team, the Steelers and Haley have a chance to make a big statement - particularly with Baltimore coming to town next week. I would not be surprised to see them go deep early and often against the Chiefs. The problem we have had with bad teams is that we go for the kill-shot (like against Tennessee where we hit the long pass to Wallace) but then never follow it up with another deep throw to drive the nail in the coffin. Monday night might be the perfect time for Haley to open up the playbook and go long.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Steelers Midseason Review: Defense

Through the first three weeks of the season, the Steelers defense looked like the "old and slow" tag had finally caught up with them. As fans, we had spent all of last season trying to shirk that tag and justify the season-opening loss to Baltimore as an outlier rather than an indication of a trend. Through the first three weeks this year, the Steelers defense gave up over 300 yards twice and allowed Carson Palmer and the Oakland Raiders to put up 34 points. Things didn't get much better after a Thursday Night loss in Tennessee. But since then, the defense hasn't given up more than 17 points to any opponent (the Giants got 6 points off a fumble return, so you can't charge that TD to the defense).

Defensive Line

The Steelers defensive line started slow and it showed as Oakland and Tennessee's offensive lines were able to control the game. The line has started coming around as of late, especially Ziggy Hood who has been getting pressure and batting down balls. Brett Keisel hasn't been as good as he was last year, and Casey Hampton seems to have gotten better as the season has gone along. One of the biggest question marks for this unit is the snap counts. The starting three (Keisel, Hampton, Hood) are getting proportionally more snaps than the top reserves (Steve McLendon and Cam Heyward) even though McLendon and Heyward have looked better than the starters at times. Hopefully McLendon and Heyward see some more snaps as the season moves along.


If you follow the team from a distance, you probably think that Running Backs have been the most injured unit on the team. However, the linebacking corps has been hit just as hard. This unit was in such dire straights at the beginning of the season with both James Harrison and Jason Worlids injured that Chris Carter started the opener in Denver. LaMarr Woodley has been battling a hamstring injury for the last few weeks and reserves Brandon Johnson and Stevenson Sylvester have both had on-again-off-again injuries. That's not to mention rookie Sean Spence who was lost for the season when he blew up his knee in the preseason. Despite that, the unit has started to come around. Lawrence Timmons has begun to return to his 2010 form and Larry Foote is playing the most fundamentally sound ball of his career. Harrison and Woodley aren't getting the sack numbers you'd like to see, but they have been getting pressure and keeping contain (especially on outside running plays).


Ike Taylor had a brutal start to the season but has rebounded nicely over the last few games, capping it off with an interception and pass defended against the Giants that earned him Defensive Player of the Week honors. Keenan Lewis has been the biggest surprise in the secondary and he now leads the team with 15 passes defended - with 11 of them coming over the last four weeks. His 15 Passes Defended ties him for the league lead with Bears corner Tim Jennings. Everyone chuckled in the preseason when Keenan proclaimed he was going to have a Pro Bowl year, but if he keeps playing like this and adds a few interceptions he may get consideration.


The Steelers have struggled through injuries at the safety position as well this season. Ryan Clark missed the opener in Denver because of his sickle cell trait then most of the Redskins game because of concussion-like symptoms. Troy Polamalu has been working back through a calf injury and backup Will Allen seems to always be getting banged up during the game but he has always been able to return. Allen has solidified Troy's safety spot and supplanted Ryan Mundy as the top backup. Allen obviously isn't Troy, but he has played good football on the back end and helped to shore up the pass defense.

Friday, November 9, 2012

WPIAL Quarterfinals Results

Final scores from tonight's Quarterfinal games.


1. North Allegheny 42, 9. Bethel Park 14
4. Seneca Valley 32, 5. Mt Lebanon 13

7. Woodland Hills 17, 2. Gateway 14
3. Upper St Clair 38, 11. Central Catholic 0

Semi-Final Matchups
1. North Allegheny vs 4. Seneca Valley
3. Upper St Clair vs 7 Woodland Hills


1. Thomas Jefferson 24, 8. Franklin Regional 21
4. West Allegheny 14, 5. Montour 2

7. West Mifflin 28, 2. Mars 13
3. Central Valley 49, 11. Hopewell 21

Semi-Final Matchups
1. Thomas Jefferson vs 4. West Allegheny
3. Central Valley vs 7. West Mifflin


1. Aliquippa 43, 9. Mt Pleasant 6
4. Jeanette 47, 5. Beaver 15

2. South Fayette 35, 10. Beaver Falls 21
3. Washington 33, 6. Seton-La Salle 17

Semi-Final Matchups
1. Aliquippa vs 4. Jeanette
2. South Fayette vs 3. Washington


1. Clairton 39, 9. Brentwood 0
13. Neshannock 24, 5. Monessen 21

2. Sto-Rox 33, 10. Union 8
6. North Catholic 22, 3. Rochester 15

Semi-Final Matchups
1. Clairton vs 13. Neshannock
2. Sto-Rox vs 6. North Catholic

WPIAL Quarterfinals Preview

The first round of the WPIAL playoffs saw a handful of "upsets" that weren't really upsets because of the way the WPIAL seeded teams. Two running backs - Washington's Shai McKenzie and Clairton's Tyler Boyd - both scored six touchdowns. Boyd finished the night with the unbelievable stat line of 10 carries, 236 yards and 6 touchdowns. If you're keeping score at home, McKenzie and Boyd individually outscored 51 of the 64 teams that played last week. Boyd also scored his 100th career touchdown, putting him within striking distance of the state record 123 TDs. As we move to the Quarterfinals this week, the games move to neutral sites.


1. North Allegheny (7-0, 10-0) vs 9. Bethel Park (6-2, 7-3) at North Hills
The two-time defending champs handled Altoona in the first round while Bethel Park and their freshman quarterback took care of business on the road in McKeesport. NA has been smoking teams all year to the tune of a 35-point average margin of victory. Bethel was the only team to beat conference champion Upper St Clair and was sound defensively, giving up over 25 points only twice. Prediction: North Allegheny

4. Seneca Valley (6-1, 9-1) vs 5. Mt Lebanon (7-1, 8-2) at North Allegheny
Both of these teams lost early in the season to North Allegheny and are looking for a shot at revenge in the semi-finals. This is the ROOT Sports game of the week and for good reason. These are two of the best offenses in Quad-A. Seneca Valley is 2nd (averaging 40.3 points per game) and Mt Lebanon is 5th, about a touchdown behind at 32.3 points per game. Seneca Valley can beat you both on the ground with 1500-yard rusher Forrest Barnes or through the air with 1500-yard passer Jordan Brown. On the other side, Mt Lebanon QB Tyler Roth is leading the WPIAL in passing with almost 2400 yards. Prediction: Seneca Valley

2. Gateway (8-0, 9-1) vs 7. Woodland Hills (6-2, 8-2) at Norwin
Gateway ran through the Foothills Conference with the top offense in Quad-A, their only loss coming to top-seeded North Allegheny. Gateway is filled with D-1 talent, including QB Thomas Woodson who is 4th in the WPIAL in passing with over 2200 yards. Woodland Hills has had a good season, but they don't have enough offense to run with Gateway. Their only hope is to keep the game low-scoring and win it at the end. Prediction: Gateway

3. Upper St Clair (7-1, 9-1) vs 11. Central Catholic (5-2, 8-2) at Baldwin
These two teams met last year in a semi-final that seemed like a simple stepping-stone before the inevitable Central Catholic-North Allegheny showdown at Heinz Field. But Pete Coughlin became a legend, starting his first game at quarterback for the Panthers and leading them to an upset victory over Central. The Panthers proceeded to take NA to overtime in the Championship Game. This year, Coughlin is the entrenched starter at USC and carried his team to a 9-1 regular season and will once again have to get past a defensively stout Central Catholic team in the playoffs. Prediction: Upper St Clair


1. Thomas Jefferson (8-0, 10-0) vs 8. Franklin Regional (6-2, 8-2) at Elizabeth Forward
In a matchup of strength-on-strength, the top offense in AAA (TJ averaged 45 points per game) faces off against the top defense in AAA (FR averaged just 6.8 points against per game). On the other side of the ball, both TJ's defense and FR's offense were top 5 units in AAA. This should be a close game, but you have to like TJ's chances with 1800-yard passer Joe Carroll. Prediction: Thomas Jefferson

4. West Allegheny (7-1, 9-1) vs 5. Montour (7-1, 9-1) at Chartiers Valley
In a rematch of the lowest-scoring game of the season where West Allegheny toppled then #1 Montour 5-3, the Spartans and Indians clash again. There will probably be more scoring this time around, but these are two of the best defenses in AAA so it wouldn't be a surprise to see another slow offensive game. Whoever wins this game might just wind up hoisting the trophy at the end of the year. Prediction: Montour

2. Mars (7-1, 9-1) vs 7. West Mifflin (7-1, 9-1) at Fox Chapel
West Mifflin handled a Greater Allegheny Conference opponent in the first round, and now gets a chance against the GAC champion Mars. These are two offensive stalwarts, both with top 5 units that average over 36 points per game. Both of these teams were downright dominant on the ground this year, with West Mifflin RB Jimmy Wheeler rushing for 1800 yards (2nd in WPIAL) and Mars RB Josh Schultheis rushing for over 1600 (5th in WPIAL). Prediction: Mars

3. Central Valley (7-1, 8-2) vs 11. Hopewell (4-4, 5-5) at Ambridge
Central Valley eeked by Belle Vernon in the first round and get star WR Robert Foster back from his one-game suspension. Foster is a difference-maker, but the Warriors are still without their starting QB and RB. Hopewell has had an up-and-down season, and Central Valley should have enough talent on their roster to move on to the Semi-Finals, but don't be surprised if this game is close. Prediction: Central Valley


1. Aliquippa (7-0, 10-0) vs 9. Mt Pleasant (6-2, 8-2) at Peters Twp
The Quips have blasted every opponent in their path this season. Mt Pleasant presents a unique challenge as it is likely the best offense Aliquippa has seen this year, and they are battle-tested, winning a close game against GCC and falling just short of Jeanette. That said, the Quips are loaded at the skill positions and are other-worldly on defense. Prediction: Aliquippa

4. Jeanette (7-1, 9-1) vs 5. Beaver (6-1, 9-1) at Hampton
It's hard to know what to expect from Jeanette this season. They pounded inferior opponents but struggled against playoff competition from the Interstate conference. The Jayhawks beat Mt. Pleasant and GCC by 1 point each and fell to Washington by just 3. That's a very thin margin between being conference champs and finishing 4th. Beaver rolled through their schedule before getting stomped by Aliquippa in the season finale. Jeanette has the experience in close games that Beaver does not. Prediction: Jeanette

2. South Fayette (8-0, 10-0) vs 10. Beaver Falls (5-2, 8-2) at Moon
As dominant as Aliquippa has been, South Fayette has been just as good. Sophomore QB Brett Brumbaugh is second in the WPIAL in passing with 2253 yards. The Lions have forced a mercy rule against every opponent so far, and this week shouldn't be any different. Prediction: South Fayette

3. Washington (8-0, 10-0) vs 6. Seton-La Salle (7-1, 9-1) at Canon-McMillan
Seton-La Salle has flown under the radar a bit this season after an early-season loss to South Fayette. They only gave up more than a touchdown once in the regular season (51 points to South Fayette) and pitched 4 shutouts. That said, Washington is a better team than everyone else they've faced. Prexies RB Shai McKenzie leads the WPIAL in rushing with over 2100 yards and is coming off a first round game where he found the end zone 6 times. The Prexies averaged 45 points per game this season, which was 3rd best in AA. Prediction: Washington


1. Clairton (9-0, 10-0) vs 9. Brentwood (6-3, 7-3) at Belle Vernon
The first meeting between these two teams was rife with controversy as Brentwood "accidentally" turned on their rarely-used sprinklers right after kickoff to water down the field in an attempt to slow down the Bears. The wet field "slowed down" Clairton to the extent that they only beat Brentwood by 35 (42-7), which broke a 4-game streak of the Bears breaking the 50-point mark. There won't be any errant sprinklers this week on Belle Vernon's artificial turf, but the Bears might be even better. Prediction: Clairton

5. Monessen (8-1, 9-1) vs 13. Neshannock (7-1, 9-1) at Chartiers-Houston
Monessen is led by WVU-recruit Chavas Rawlins who accounted for over 1800 yards passing and rushing this season. On the other side, Neshannock QB Ernie Burkes is also a dual-threat who put up over 2000 yards of total offense. Monessen's only loss was to Clairton and Neshannock's only mis-step was against Rochester. Prediction: Neshannock

2. Sto-Rox (7-1, 9-1) vs 10. Union (5-3, 7-3) at Mars
Sto-Rox won the Big Seven Conference after beating Rochester in the last week of the season and winning the 3-way tiebreaker. In a rematch of Big Seven Conference foes, Sto-Rox seemingly has an advantage after beating Union 48-21 earlier this season. Prediction: Sto-Rox

3. Rochester (7-1, 9-1) vs 6. North Catholic (7-1, 8-2) at Keystone Oaks (Dormont Stadium)
In a rematch of a semi-final game from a few years ago, two of the top RBs in Single-A face off. Rochester is led by 1600-yard rusher Dante Marsick and North Catholic boasts sophomore sensation PJ Fulmore who ran for 1500. Even though Rochester is a much better team, as a North Catholic Alum, there's no way I'm picking against the Trojans. Homer Pick: North Catholic

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Steelers Midseason Review: Offense

It's hard to imagine, but we are halfway home in the 2012 NFL season. As I've said time and again, the complexion of the league changes every four weeks. The teams that are dominant at the beginning of the season aren't always the ones that are the best at the end. Look at what has happened over the last four weeks. After Week 5 the Steelers were sitting at 2-2 and some had proclaimed them dead in the water with Baltimore sitting at 4-1 atop the division and Cincinnati standing in the way. Now, Cincinnati has dropped 4 in a row and sunk to 3-5 and it's the Steelers at 5-3 who look like a threat to challenge for the division crown.

Today, I take a look back at how the Steelers offense has performed over the first half of the season.


How many good things can I say about Ben Roethlisberger? If it wasn't for the Steelers 3 losses, he would be right in the thick of the league MVP conversation. He is on pace for career highs in completions, attempts, yards, touchdowns and a career-low sack percentage (sacks divided by drop-backs). He also has 2 Fourth Quarter Comebacks and 3 Game Winning Drives. Ben has executed Todd Haley's offense to perfection and in turn is having one of the best statistical seasons of his career.

Running Back

Coming into the season, we knew this would be somewhat of a "by committee" approach with Redman and Dwyer sharing the load until Mendenhall got back. The ground game started slow this season, but since the Bye Week the Steelers have ran for over 120 yards in 4 of the 5 games. The only game they didn't was the loss to Tennessee when they only managed 56. The Steelers have produced a 100-yard rusher each of the last 3 weeks and start the second half against a Chiefs team ranked 22nd in the league in run defense. They do have some injury issues as Mendenhall is working through an Achilles injury, Redman has two sprained ankles, Dwyer has a quad injury and Rainey has bruised ribs.

Wide Receiver

The Steelers may have the most dangerous receiving corps in the league with Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, and Emmanuel Sanders. Wallace has underperformed by most standards this season, but he has been asked to be more of a complete receiver rather than just a deep threat. He has adjusted his game and is starting to come around. He has shown improvement on slant routes and making guys miss in space, evidenced by the 51-yard touchdown against the Giants. Wallace still has a problem catching the ball in his hands - something he's obviously been working towards after catching a lot of balls in his chest and stomach over the first 3 years of his career. Antonio Brown is the most complete receiver on the team but his ankle injury against the Giants could be cause for concern. Sanders hasn't put up a lot of big numbers, but every one of his catches has been meaningful and at clutch points in games.

Tight End

The nation is finally starting to see what Steelers fans have known for a long time - that Heath Miller is one of the best tight ends in the league. Heath is on pace for a career year in touchdowns, receptions and receiving yards. He absolutely owns the middle of the field and (as always) has been a dominant blocker. Haley has employed Heath as one of the primary red zone targets and it has paid off, with the Steelers cashing in their red zone opportunities and Heath racking up the touchdowns. Heath is having a  Pro Bowl year and deserves that trip to Hawaii. Vote for him. 

Offensive Line

This was a unit that entered the season with some big question marks. First round pick David DeCastro went down in the preseason and Ramon Foster was called into duty at RG once again. Willie Colon was moved inside to LG and Max Starks was brought back to play LT, beating out rookie Mike Adams in camp. Eight weeks into the season, one of the starting five (Marcus Gilbert) has missed much of the season due to injury and the centerpiece (Pouncey) has also missed a game. Mike Adams is now the starter at RT with Gilbert injured and he has held his own. He has struggled one-on-one against dominant pass rushers like JPP and Justin Tuck, but Haley has done a great job of using TEs and RBs to give Adams help in pass protection and he has been a monster in run blocking. After a terrible start to the season, Colon has cut down on the amount of back-breaking penalties he has taken and the unit as a whole has come together and started to dominate the last month. After being sacked 9 times in the first 3 weeks, Ben was only sacked 4 times in the next four, including two games where he stayed clean the entire game.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Mannings Make The Best Faces: Steelers Win


The Giants come out throwing and Cruz gets them near midfield, but the defense puts the clamps on when the Giants go to the ground and Eli misses a throw on 3rd down. The Giants pin the Steelers back at the 2.

Redman bursts up the middle to give us a little breathing room. AB reels one in and gets us out to the 30.
The wheels come off when Adams gets rocked by Justin Tuck and Ben gets sacked on first down then Rainey fumbles a screen pass but thankfully the ball bounces out of bounds.

Keenan Lewis makes two pass deflections to force a 3-and-out. Lewis came into the game leading the team in PDs, he's really stepped up the last few weeks.

Redman gets us into 3rd and short then Ben does his Ben thing and finds Redman on a broken play to move the sticks. The drive stalls out when a blitzing corner knocks a pass down on 3rd down.

The Giants get Cruz on a linebacker in the slot and turn it into a big gain up the middle. Eli takes a shot down the sideline and Ike makes a leaping interception to produce the first turnover of the game.

Redman moves the sticks again with a big first down run. Ben takes a shot deep and Brown's feet get tied up with the corner and Brown limps off the field. Yikes. With Brown out, Cotchery makes a big catch on 3rd down to keep the drive alive.

Second Quarter

Will Johnson makes a catch out of the backfield to convert a 3rd down and get us into the red zone. Redman runs hard and gets down to the 10. Redman grinds it down inside the 5. Ben gets time in the pocket and hits Sanders in the back of the end zone for the score.

Points. Off. Turnovers.


Keenan gets called for a terrible pass interference call that gives the Giants the ball in the red zone. Horrible, horrible call, barely touched his shoulder, didn't turn him, great defensive play. Man. Bradshaw carries the Giants inside the 5. Ike drops an interception in the end zone and Clark levels Cruz right as the ball hits the ground. The flags come out. Clark hit Cruz in the shoulder with his shoulder. Another terrible call gives the Giants a free chance. Phil Simms even admits it was a bad call.

The Giants pound it in. Gift wrapped touchdown from the officials.


CCR brings the kickoff back across the 50 and we're in business. Redman gets another big run up the middle. The refs crap all over themselves again when Ben's arm is moving forward and the ball comes out and they call it a fumble and let the play continue. The Giants run it back and replay upholds the call.


Steelers 7, Refs 14, Giants 0

Apparently the NFL thought helping the Giants win would make everyone who lost something in the hurricane feel better.

The Steelers keep grinding on the ground but can't pick up a first down across midfield. Tomlin elects to go for it on 4th down and Redman converts. Ben gets sacked on 3rd down and that ends that. Adams got rocked by JPP.

Eli takes a shot deep. Big surprise, there's a flag. PI on Keenan. Two false start penalties on the Giants are their first penalties of the day. The defense holds and Tynes comes up short on a 51-yard field goal.

Ben takes over with 30 seconds left and guns one to Cotch down the slot who makes a great sliding catch to get us to the fringe of field goal range. Ben hits Heath down the seam to get it inside the 10 and the offense runs up and spikes it with 5 ticks left. Suisham barely squeezes it inside the left post.


Third Quarter

CCR brings the kickoff all the way back to the Giants 35, but the offense does nothing and Ben takes a sack on 3rd down when a throwaway would've given us a shot at a long field goal. Punt. That 3-and-out hurts.

The Giants take over inside their 10 but two runs and a big throw to the tight end down the seam get them out of trouble. The Giants work it into field goal range and Tynes connects to stretch the lead.


A penalty on the kick return gives us terrible starting field position and Ben makes a horrible decision to throw a ball to Wallace with triple coverage around him. The Giants pick it off and are sitting in the catbird's seat.

The refs screw up another call, giving Cruz a generous spot when he ran back behind the first down marker before being tackled. Tomlin challenges and it's actually overturned. The Giants move the sticks anyways with a run. A quick-hitter to Nicks gets them down to the goal line, but the defense stacks it up. Ike makes a big-time play to seal off the corner on an outside run. Big-time stop by the defense to hold the Giants to 3.


As if the Steelers don't need anything else to go wrong, Rainey gets injured on the kickoff return. Looked like ribs. Wallace finally makes an appearance with a diving catch across the 40. He takes a shot from the safety as he starts to get up and it's initially flagged, but Tom Coughlin complains that his team hasn't gotten enough calls this game, so the refs pick it up.

Fourth Quarter

Facing 3rd and 6 at midfield, Ben hit Wallace on a quick slant coming across the field, and we finally saw the elite speed we've been waiting for.
Wallace turned on the jets and absolutely blew by the entire Giants secondary, coming all the way across the field...
turning the corner...
...and scorching the Giants for a 51-yard touchdown.

As Tomlin once said, "visibly fast"


With the Steelers back in the game, the defense steps it up and blanks the Giants. Eli tries to roll out on 3rd down after Woodley collapses the pocket and Timmons brings him down for a sack.

And another one, because Mannings make the best faces:

With Rainey and Brown out, Manny Sanders gets a shot at punt returner, and springs through a hole, cuts it back across the field, and takes it all the way down to the 12.

Wow, what a return.

Ben hits Heath to put us in 3rd and 1, but Haley opts for a pass and Ben has to check it down to Redman who can't get to the sticks. On 4th and 1 right at the doorstep, Tomlin makes one of the worst decisions of his career and opts for a fake field goal, rather than tying the game. Seemed like Tomlin was trying to channel his inner Les Miles, because Butler (the holder) tossed the ball back over his head to Suisham, who had no blockers in front of him and got swarmed by the Giants.

Terrible call with a chance to tie the game. If you're going to go for it, let the offense do it, don't try a fake field goal.

Thankfully, the defense is up to snuff and absolutely shuts the Giants out again.

Ben goes to work hitting Heath to get the drive rolling and move us to the fringe of field goal range. Two plays later, Ben finds Cotch down the sideline for another first down to get us into the red zone. Redman plows for a few then Will Johnson drops one that hits him right in the hands on 2nd down. The Giants give us a gift by jumping offsides and Redman is able to not only convert the 3rd and short, but grind all the way down to the goal line. Two plays later, Redman pounds it in.


The Giants get the ball back with 4 minutes to go, and if you weren't thinking about Eli's penchant for 4th quarter comebacks, then you've been living under a rock. Eli misses Cruz then air mails a ball that almost gets picked off. Woodley storms around the corner on 3rd down and knocks the ball out of Eli's hand.
The Giants fall on it, but the sack/fumble is enough for force the 3rd straight 3-and-out for the defense. What a performance.

Mannings really do make the best faces.

With 2:52 left and the Giants still holding 3 timeouts, the Steelers needed two first downs to ice it. Batch started things off well, but Redman got greedy and tried to bounce one, bringing up 3rd and long with 2:40 to go. Ben takes a deep drop and guns one to an open Manny Sanders down the numbers who secures it for the first down and forces the Giants to use their last timeout.

Longest 30 seconds of the game while you played through all the scenarios in your head. You had to figure at worst 3 running plays and a punt would only leave the Giants with 30 seconds to march downfield and tie the game. Isaac Redman makes all that thinking irrelevant when he takes one right up the middle and rumbles past the sticks and all the way down inside the 30.


Victory Formation.


Players of the Game
Offensive Game Ball: Isaac Redman
Defensive Game Ball: Ike Taylor

Honorable Mentions:
Emmanuel Sanders
Mike Wallace
Chris Rainey
Ben Roethlisberger
Maurkice Pouncey
Ramon Foster
Willie Colon
LaMarr Woodley
Keenan Lewis
Lawrence Timmons

Final Thoughts

  • All things told, this was a very typical Steelers victory. They overcame a seemingly impossible situation with terrible calls going against them and the other team holding a lead. They played dominating defense and Ben carried us to victory at the end.
  • What a game by the defense. We held Eli to 125 yards passing and the Giants on the whole to under 200 yards of total offense.
  • Keenan Lewis is really coming around the last month. He leads the team in passes defended and had another 4 in this game. He's breaking on balls and making solid tackles in the secondary.
  • Ike Taylor won AFC Defensive Player of the Week. He had an interception on a poorly underthrown ball, almost had another interception in the end zone and all around did a great job shutting down Victor Cruz.
  • Isaac Redman had a fantastic game in his home state of New Jersey. The interior of the O-line just dominated the Giants up front all game. 
  • Mike Adams can't handle elite rushers one-on-one. The two sacks he gave up came when he had to face Tuck & JPP on his own. He's doing a good job filling in at RT, but he needs help to handle the elite guys.
  • Hopefully Antonio Brown isn't out for too long with his ankle injury, the offense looked totally different without him in there.
  • Emmanuel Sanders had a huge game stepping up into the #2 role. Made some clutch catches and ripped off a great return that he almost took back to the house.
  • I could be wrong, but I think that's the first time Wallace has actually used his speed to take a routine slant route to the house. Most of his other long plays have been long passes. That was exactly the kind of play Wallace needs to make to be an elite receiver - take a routine play and turn it into six.
  • Man was the fake field goal call terrible. If you're going to go for it there, a fake field goal is probably the lowest-percentage call you can make. If Tomlin wanted to go for it, we'd been pounding the rock up the middle all game, so why not run the ball? Good thing the defense bailed us out again by coming up with a stop and a sack on the next series.
  • For the record, some tweets from Mike Pereira, former NFL VP of Officiating: